Glacier Hunting in Norway

“As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can”.”

~ John Muir

Kayak Styggevatnet Lake to Austdalsbreen Glacier Walk in Jostedalsbreen National Park.

Timing: Mid-August 2019 (available July-September)

Guide Company: Icetroll “The Icetroll team specialises on anything ice and all things…troll.”

Price: 1500 NOK (154 USD) per person/2968 NOK for 2 people (including fees)

What’s included: all boating and glacier equipment

What’s not included: warm and waterproof clothing, camera, food & drink, walking shoes/boots to wear under provided crampons.

Recommended clothing: hat/gloves, sunglasses, woollen under layers, waterproof pants, rain jacket.

Meeting Point: The Breheimsenteret Jostedal, on road 604. Breheimsenter is a visitor information center in Jostedalsbreen National Park. You can get information on activities and accommodation on their website http://jostedal.com/en/home/

How to get there: Get a rental car. We used Rent-A-Wreck. Alternatively there is the Glacial Bus that you can take to the meeting point.

“Brebussen” has daily departures between Sogndal and Jostedalen (Sogndal-Nigardsbreen) in the period June 25th and September 2nd. Price adult: 158 NOK/14.26 USD . They recommend booking a place to stay after the activity in case you miss the last bus out for the day. 

Accommodation: 

Jostedal Hotel: post@jostedalhotel.no or call +47 5768 3119 – The Hotel is the meeting place for RAFTING

Jostedal Camping: post@jostedalcamping.no or call +47 9775 6789 – 100m from the Jostedal Hotel and 3km from Breheimsenteret

Wild camp: click to get the scoop on Norway’s right to roam policy.

The hunt begins…

We began our month in Norway wild camping in Strandvika and then hiked to Kjeragbolten, Preikestolen, and Trolltunga camping in between using our rental car to get around. We explored the Sognefjord, Norway’s largest and deepest fjord, and the beautiful Innerdalen Valley, and drove the serpentine mountain road, Trollstigen. After exploring for just over 2.5 weeks we decided it was time to get up close and personal with a glacier. 

We discovered Icetroll during an online search and they received great reviews. Icetroll offers glacial walks combined with either a kayak or motorboat trip across one of three lakes. They also offer white water rafting down the glacial river. Tours are tailored to ability and may suit families to adventurous ice climbers. As we had to make our way back to fly out of Oslo we selected a day tour that combined kayaking across the Styggevatnet Lake and walking on the Ausdalsbreen glacier. They do offer an intriguing overnight trip which combines this day trip itinerary with a trek up to and across the main plateau glacier, Jostalsbreen to Mt. Rundeggi. Patrons would then camp on a snowfield on the side of the mountain and summit Mt. Rundeggi for a sunset dinner. Though more expensive if you have more time I would recommend checking this option out.

We made our way from a short visit in Ålesund towards Jostedalsbreen National Park camping around the outside of a road tunnel in the small village of Stryn along the way. The day before our scheduled tour was perhaps the warmest and sunniest day we experienced in Norway to date. The road followed the glacial fed Jostedøla river and like all roads in Norway was surrounded by natural beauty. Alex spotted a sandy river bank on the far side of the Jostedøla and we looked for a bridge across. We found a way and spent the afternoon in our swimsuits allowing the sun rays to warm our bodies. I busted out my hoop and spun around and around soaking up the sublime views in every direction. We opted to call this enchanting spot home for the night and set up camp out of sight under some trees next to the shore.

Wild camping is an option all over Norway as the country has a “right to roam” policy stating that, “In open country in the lowlands, you can pitch a tent and camp overnight for up to 48 hours in one location without prior permission from the landowner. In the mountains, and in remote, sparsely populated areas, you may camp for longer than 48 hours. Unless local bylaws provide otherwise, you must never pitch your tent within 150 metres (500 feet) of an inhabited house or cabin.” We wild camped on a few of the hikes as well as at some beautiful spots along fjords and at the top of the Trollstigen road.

Hot on the trail…

The next morning we met our Icetroll guide, Cuba, in front of the Breheimsenteret visitor center at 8am. Joining us were two additional couples and a family of four with two young children. We followed behind our guide in our rental car up a long and windy road that climbed along the glacial river to a parking lot beneath a dam. The Styggevatnet Lake we were about to kayak across is controlled by a dam and is part of Norway’s National Electricity Grid for Hydropower. The two smaller Styggevatnet and Austdalsvatnet lakes were merged into one by the dam completed in 1989. The Styggevatnet Lake is 1,200 meters above sea level, 6km in length, 90 km deep, and is covered by ice and snow winter through early July.

Cuba distributed kayak skirts and life vests to each member of our group and we carried those up a small hill to the lake shore where the kayaks awaited our arrival. It was a brisk, cloudy day but we were fully geared up in warm layers including rain pants and jackets. We each grabbed our kayak paddles from a stack and listened to the safety rules before helping each other carry the kayaks closer to the water’s edge. Skirts on, Cuba pushed us in one by one.  We lowered the rudder on our sea kayaks and practiced steering while waiting for the whole group to enter the lake. Due to the freezing temperature of the water it was important that we stay closer to the side of the lake versus the center in case someone were to fall in. Brrrr! 

In our sights…

The water was a bit choppy but we had the wind on our side on the way in. After an hour and a half of paddling we approached the 30m high calving front where chunks of ice break away from the glacier. As we got closer we passed small icebergs that had calved previously. Calving can cause huge waves and it’s best to stay to the side at a safe distance. The Ausdalsbreen glacier was a mixture of light and stunning bright aqua blue. Once we helped each other carry our kayaks out onto the shore we walked along the bank to get a closer view of the glacier’s front and take our lunch break.

After lunch we strapped on our crampons and received instructions on how to walk in them without cutting our skin or that of our comrades. We were also tethered together with a safety rope. Once everyone was feeling comfortable with the gear we ventured out onto the ice. There was a very thin layer of volcanic ash dusting the top of the glacier left there by a prior distant volcanic eruption. 

Target achieved!

We gazed into deep crevasses and stood amazed at trickling meltwater. As in many cases, gravity is the reason glacial ice changes and flows down-hill. Warm-based glaciers, such as Ausdalsbreen, slide at their base over bedrock and water is a crucial lubricant for this process. Ice in the middle flows faster than ice on the sides and faster at the surface than at depth. We could see many crevasses that had formed toward the disarticulation face compared to where we were safely exploring.

Cuba had an ice axe and an ice screw with him. These are both used for climbing and as essential rescue aids should someone in our chain of people fall and start pulling the rest of us down a crevasse with them! Cuba used the axe to demonstrate the amazing echo a few small shards of ice make while falling down a crevasse. He let us try out the ice screw which expels a tasty tube of glacier ice as it is screwed in.

We spent roughly 2 hours exploring and learning about the glacier before heading back down towards our kayaks. Our group stopped to gawk at the face a bit longer just as a large iceberg calved off the front sending a shock wave and making an incredible boom. It was an impressive sight we all felt lucky to witness.

After the water calmed down we helped each other carry the boats back to the water’s edge and sailed off towards the dam. The wind was against us on the way back and paddling felt hopeless yet we had no other choice. I felt bad for the parents who had split into two boats each with a young child as they had to paddle alone. Cuba coached them onwards at the rear while the rest of us happily took breaks to keep the group together.

Back at the dam and all exhausted but happy we eased our boats sideways and raised the rudder. Cuba helped everyone out and after placing the kayaks on the rack and stacking the paddles we walked back down to the parking lot and said our farewells. Throughout the trip Alex and I talked to Cuba about his life as a guide. It is routine for kayak guides to do other adventure tours such as white water rafting and to travel seasonally for work around the world. It sounds like a very exciting life.

We stopped at the visitor center on the way out and indulged in a cup of hot chocolate to warm our chilled bodies. As the cafe was closing the clerk offered waffles for 10 NOK/1 USD with a delicious compote and cream. Of course we accepted the offer and thoroughly enjoyed our delicious appetizer before heading back to the same lovely camping spot as the night before.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our glacier adventure in Norway. Care to share your own iceberg experience or have a question about ours? Please leave a comment below.

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